Israeli lies go unchallenged on BBC’s flagship current affairs show

A BBC correspondent displayed a fawning attitude towards Shimon Peres while Israel was attacking Gaza last year. (World Economic Forum/Flickr)

In March, the BBC’s flagship news program Today broadcast an interview with Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s defense minister.

Yaalon was given free rein to disseminate lies and propaganda with not a single interruption or challenge from Today presenter, Sarah Montague.

In response, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and many individuals complained to the BBC about the substandard level of interviewing. The replies received from the BBC have revealed the extent to which the organization is prepared to make a fool of itself in order to justify and protect its soft interviews with Israeli spokespeople.

Many had complained that Yaalon was allowed to deny the occupation and the siege on Gaza, and had falsely claimed the Palestinians have “political independence” with Israel not wanting to “govern them whatsoever” — and had done so without any challenging interventions from Montague.

In fact, as Yaalon told lie after lie, there was absolute silence from Montague as the minutes ticked on, with not a sound to indicate she was still present.

The BBC complaints department sent this collective response to those who contacted it about the broadcast: “Please note that it’s always going to be difficult in a live environment against time constraints to challenge each and every comment made, given the amount of other questions and points to cover.”

A quick look at some of Today’s interviews with Palestinian spokespeople is enough to demonstrate just how ludicrous this statement from the BBC is.

And a comparison with Today’s interviews with Israelis during the same time period is sufficient to reveal the unswerving nature of the BBC’s pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian bias.

Patronising and aggressive

Take, for example, interviews conducted by Today during July and August 2014.

On 3 July, with the occupied West Bank almost totally shut down by Israel following the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers, Today presenter John Humphrys interviewed Abdullah Abdullah, chairperson of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s political committee.

Humphrys ignored the alleged difficulties of a live environment and time constraints and instead challenged “each and every comment” made by Abdullah, to the extent that the senior Palestinian politician was effectively denied the opportunity to comment at all.

This is part of the interview:

Humphrys: “What I’m trying to do is ask you where we go from here.”

Abdullah: “From here? This racist Israel is exposing itself once more…”

Humphrys [interrupting]: “Can you just cut the rhetoric for a moment and try and deal with the practicalities?”

Abdullah: “This is a government of gangsters. It’s got to be exposed…”

Humphrys [interrupting]: “A bit less rhetoric perhaps and a bit more thought to what is actually going to take place in the Middle East.”

Abdullah: “This is the lack of resolution in the international community…”

Humphrys [interrupting]: “To do what?”

Abdullah: “Israel has been created by your country some 66 years ago…”

Humphrys [interrupting]: “Can we talk about now instead of fifty years ago? That’s what I’m trying to do, talk about what should happen now.”

Abdullah: “If we go to the root cause of it, we would be able to solve everything…”

Humphrys [interrupting]: “We’ve been going to the root cause of it for fifty years. It hasn’t got anywhere has it?”

The interview continues in the same vein for another thirty seconds, with a patronising, aggressive Humphrys continually interrupting and refusing to allow Abdullah the time to complete any of the observations he is trying to make.

At one point, he even puts words into Abdullah’s mouth, saying: “If you’re saying this morning that nothing can move forward until Israel is destroyed, well, at least we know what your position is.”

Abdullah has said nothing of the sort and, when he attempts to make his position clear — “What I say is that Israel…has to be held accountable for its violations of international law” — he is interrupted again by the BBC presenter.

Compare this aggression to Montague’s passive encounter with Yaalon, where the Israeli minister decides what he’s going to say and says it uninterrupted, and at no point is asked to “cut the rhetoric” — despite referring to Gaza as “Hamastan.”

Easy ride for Israel

Immediately after Humphrys spoke to Abdullah on 3 July, he interviewed the Israeli government spokesperson, Mark Regev — Palestinians aren’t interviewed by Today without an Israeli to counter them. The same isn’t true in reverse, and Israelis are continuously interviewed — as Yaalon was — with no Palestinian present to give an alternative viewpoint.

Regev was given his customary easy ride on the BBC. Humphrys was polite and non-challenging, and allowed the Israeli to blame Hamas for all the violence that takes place in the West Bank and Gaza without daring to question him on Israeli army violence against Palestinian civilians.

Six days later, Humphrys interviewed the head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Raji Sourani, who was on the phone from Gaza.

Gaza, by then, was under day and night attack by Israel.

Sourani explained this, to which Humphrys replied: “Couldn’t you stop it if you stopped firing rockets at Israel?”

Sourani: “I think Israel initiated that for several years before…”

Humphrys [interrupting, and incredulous]: “Israel initiated you firing rockets at them?”

Sourani: “No, I’m talking about before this, Israel was attacking for seven nights, bombing Gaza from south to north, and nobody slept for seven days before that, and they were bombing for seven days before that…”

Humphrys [emphatically]: “Three Israeli teenagers have been murdered.”

Sourani: “Eleven has been killed by Israel, including four Palestinian teenagers, and nobody has mentioned that and that’s a great shame. There is no holier than holy blood. Every blood is holy, even Palestinian one.”

The minute-long interview ends here and Humphrys goes on to interview Daniel Taub, Israel’s ambassador to the UK. The rudeness and hectoring disappears and Taub is given four minutes to tell lies about Gaza, such as this —“It’s an area that’s clearly not under occupation” — unchallenged.

Humphry’s interview with Sourani, as well as demonstrating yet again the hostile atmosphere of the BBC for Palestinians, reveals how deeply ingrained the Israeli narrative is within the minds of BBC presenters.

Humphrys sounded genuinely incredulous at Sourani’s suggestion that Israeli violence may have preceded Palestinian violence, rather than being, as Israel always maintains, a defensive reaction to it.

His attitude is that of the colonial-minded journalist, wedded to the belief that if the natives would only stop firing their rockets the colonizer could live in peace.

The theft of land and freedom by the colonizer doesn’t come into it, and Humphrys even implies that Gaza deserves the fatal collective punishment it is receiving because three Israeli teenagers were killed in the West Bank.

Breathtaking 

Such unbalanced, biased interviewing continued through July and August, as Israel was pounding much of Gaza to rubble and wiping out entire Palestinian families.

The lack of impartiality was replicated on BBC television news and BBC Online, where pro-Israeli commentators were presented as “independent” and brought on to defend Israel’s actions.

On the 31 July episode of TodaySarah Montague, true to form, interviewed two Israelis — and no Palestinians — on whether Israel’s assault on Gaza was legal.

Her guests — a retired colonel from the Israeli army, who greenlighted massacres in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead five years before, and a former spokesperson for the Israeli government —enjoyed nine minutes of gentle conversation in which they were able to assert that Israel had no other option but to attack and did so only with great sorrow. 

Today continued to provide a willing platform for Israeli propaganda into August.

On 13 August, former Israeli president, Shimon Peres, was given airtime in an interview with Middle East correspondent, Wyre Davies, for the stated reason than his was “one voice that we haven’t heard much of during this crisis.”

Davies allowed him to tell one astounding lie after another for four minutes.

This was his first lie: “Look, we left Gaza willingly, unilaterally…We handed over to the Palestinians a free, open Gaza, which is a beautiful strip of…a beautiful beach. They could have developed it for tourism, for fishing, for agriculture. We don’t understand, frankly, why are they fighting? What are they shooting? We left. What is the purpose? They want to be free. They are free.”

And this came towards the end: “When we left Gaza, Gaza was open. No restriction, no closure, nothing whatever. We helped them even, to build a new modern agriculture. We would like to see them a normal nation, living in peace, developing their country.”

To which a compliant Davies replied: “Your position is clear. You obviously pursue peace from a position of strength.”

The lies were breathtaking, the fact he was allowed to tell them unchallenged, extraordinary. Compare this to Abdullah’s interview on Today a month earlier, when he wasn’t given the space even to complete a sentence, or Sourani’s interview when he was hectored to justify Gaza’s rockets, the BBC interviewer’s concern, as it always is, being only for Israel, not for the Palestinians under occupation.

The BBC complaints department can fire off as many email messages as it likes, arrogantly declaring the impartiality of the BBC or trying to pretend interviewers don’t have time to “challenge each and every comment made” by an Israeli interviewee.

But an analysis of just one BBC program’s interviews with its Palestinian and Israeli guests shows those claims to be as big a lie as any told by an Israeli spokesperson appearing on Today. And that is truly shameful.

Tags

Comments

picture

I agree totally with this article - it's a programme I listen to daily. Where are good Palestinian speakers like Abdul Bari-Atwan and Hanan Ashwari? They seem to put unequal orators against each other favouring ISRAELI rhetoric - it makes me puke. Stand up for justice!

picture

I haven't watched the BBC for over a year now. The quality of broadcasts is extremely poor and the truthfulness of their presentations is nonexistent. It is quite obvious that BBC interviewers and news presenters are not allowed to criticize Israel or to allow anyone else to do so. It's regretful to see a once giant in broadcast journalism sink to such low order.

picture

The BBC is totally discredited. Whenever I see it, I immediately switch channels and treat it like the propaganda streaming from the Murdoch empire.

picture

After years of turning the air blue with frustration & indignation listening to or viewing the BBC's news & current affairs coverage, i've accepted defeat & have come to rely on less one-sided & pro-establishment broadcasters & programming. Much like the increasing numbers who are switching from the BBC & turning to other sources to receive their news.

picture

It is not just Israel and the middle east where they are blatantly ignoring the truth. I stopped watching tv years ago, and listening to the radio more recently. There are good investigative journalists on the internet, and good shows, such as richie allen

picture

In 2005, Mark Thompson, then BBC Director General and paid £930K package, visited with Ariel Sharon. He apparently promised Sharon that the Palestinian case would never, ever receive equal treatment from the Corporation. This was reported in the Observer. Multiple FOI requests failed to secure the minutes of these meetings. The excuse given was "they had gone missing". All BBC jornos know the score. I have heard NUJ jornos recounting a 'climate of fear' pertaining at the Corporation throughout last July & August which staff felt if they made any to address self evident bias which, as the transcripts above show, was blatant in its subtlety. Remember, the 50,000 March Against Austerity which actually started outside the Langham Place HQ and never got any coverage? The point is the battle for justice for Palestine will never receive any help from the mainstream media. But we are turning the tanker around, thanks to BDS and social networks.

picture

Yes, the coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict by the BBC is atrocious to the point of being almost criminally negligent. But as Tim Llewellyn pointed out during the PSC event discussing the BBC and Gaza last year, the BBC has since its inception mostly been an establishment and government mouthpiece. But it's not only about war and peace in the middle east. The BBC virtually ignored the extremely important, highly controversial Health and Social Care Bill when it was being discussed in parliament -- until it was too late and became law. Then of course the BBC could 'safely' discuss it, although still in biased way. For years now, the BBC 'star' interviewers have corrupted the national conversation, grossly distorted politics and, I believe, contributed significantly to the general coarsening of everyday behaviour in Britain: people feel free to be rude, to be viscerally aggressive on social media, to jeer, threaten and bully. But the most egregious dereliction of journalistic duty within the BBC -- and the most dangerous -- concerns their utter failure to report what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. With the exception, I think, often, of Jeremy Bowen.

Amena Saleem

Amena Saleem's picture

Amena Saleem is a journalist and activist, working with Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza with PSC. More information on PSC’s solidarity work is available at www.palestinecampaign.org